Written by FOTP Team
First, we’ll rewind. Thousands and thousands of years ago, humans began to domesticate wolves. There are two ideas about the way this happened. One is that wolves invaded human camps for scraps, and people gradually realised that there were benefits to having wolves outside. The second (and probably more likely) theory is that Paleolithic people found and adopted wolf pups and other baby mammals (the very first rescues), and eventually this habit produced socialized pups.
At the time, the benefits of this unexpected cross-species relationship (which was, TBH, quite an odd match) were all about hunting and survival. But over centuries, it developed into a partnership with multi-faceted benefits for both humans and dogs.
For humans, the benefits of dog ownership range from lower stress to a longer life expectancy. Dogs actively help people with physiological and mental health issues, and they can even help children who are learning to read. Simply stroking a dog can increase feel-good chemicals in the human body.
We’ll show you the studies on this page, and they all point to what we already feel in our bones: owning a dog is pawesome!
So you’re here to learn why you should get a dog? The physical benefits are widely studied – and they’re astounding. The presence of a dog can increase your fitness, boost your immunity and reduce your blood pressure, helping you to be more relaxed AND live for longer! This is a no-brainer.
Walking is underrated, but you shouldn’t overlook it. A dog will demand walking for at least 300 minutes per week. But you don’t have to be in peak shape to get started: walking’s suitable for people with stiff joints or back trouble. When you’re out, keep the pace at moderate intensity to get the best, fat-burning benefit. As an added extra, walking increases creative output for 81% of people. So put down the laptop and go for a walk in your lunch break.
Stroke a dog (even if it’s not yours). Many studies have shown that people with dogs have significantly lower blood pressure than those with no dog. It’s difficult to prove with certainty, but the American Heart Association has concluded that dog ownership probably lowers cardiovascular risk.
In one fun study, researchers asked people to perform mental arithmetic – measuring their blood pressure before, during, and after. Pet owners had lower blood pressure and smaller increases while they were stressed (doing maths). This showed that pet owners have a better BP baseline and greater ability to recover from stress.
Dog ownership can help people with mental health issues like depression. In one study, dogs visited an elderly care home and reduced the rate of depression among residents by 50%. Proof that dogs are magical!
First, you’ll pick up more disease. Sounds like a problem? Stay with us. Dogs are walking disasters when it comes to carrying disease – but this can actually help their human friends. If you have a dog in your house, you’ll come into contact with viruses more often, building up a bank of immunity. In 2020, researchers studied coronavirus infection among the dog population and found it was around 50%. They came to the tentative conclusion that dog owners are better-equipped to fight the disease, explaining that “recurrent contact with animal coronaviruses may lead to immunization”.
Second, your life expectancy could increase. People who have had a heart attack live for longer if they have a dog in the home. And for any cause of death, the generalised risk is around 24% lower for dog owners. The figures show that the health benefits of dog ownership are, for most people, literally life-changing.
The bond between an adult and their dog can be compared to the bond between parent and child. It’s that significant. The return of love is an immeasurable benefit for many people.
Having a dog in the house makes us feel less lonely, according to 80% of pet owners. Psychology Today reported during the pandemic that cats make no difference to loneliness scores, but dogs often can.
For children, the benefits of having a dog in the house are twofold. Not only will they benefit from additional immunity, they’re also likely to walk more (twice a week on average).
Has your dog ever taken a dislike to someone without any apparent reason?
Dogs have a famously accurate sense of smell and can detect all kinds of disease, habits and history that humans wouldn’t notice. Dogs protect their owners, performing their own reconnaissance mission while on a walk. So you should probably pay attention to their judgement.
We also know, of course, that fellow dog owners are kind, devoted (all those hours of walking), and more relaxed. Those are the people – and dogs – that you want in your life, and you’ll meet them while you’re out with a dog.
For at least 15,000 years, humans have kept pet dogs. That’s plenty of time for academics to conduct hundreds of experiments proving the health benefits of owning a dog. Here are just some of the recent studies.
The risk of dying from a heart attack is 31% lower when you own a dog, reports the American Heart Association. This study looked at 182,000 Swedish people, aged between 40 and 85, who had suffered a heart attack. For single people, the risk of death after heart attack was 33% lower among dog owners. It was 15% lower for dog-owning people who also lived with a spouse or child (we think that helps, too!). What explained these results? Dog-owners take more physical exercise and are thought to be less lonely and stressed: stress raises blood pressure and exercise keeps it down.
At the University of Toronto, professors compiled 10 different studies to access a database of 3.8 million people. Their study looked at all-cause mortality (death for any reason) and showed that dog-owners have 24% lower risk of death than non-dog-owners. That doesn’t mean they won’t die – it means that they are living for longer.
Oxytocin is a neuropeptide which is produced by the human body. It’s produced by women to stimulate labour and breastfeeding and it’s also produced by humans as a result of affectionate touch. It’s not an unnecessary byproduct: oxytocin helps people to interpret expressions (especially those of their children), build trust, and feel relaxed. Swedish psychologists spent several years studying the link between humans, dogs, and the production of oxytocin and cortisol. In one 2017 study, they asked dog owners to sit in a room with their dog for one hour, stroking the dog for only the first 3 minutes. (This didn’t really work – almost all owners accidentally touched or spoke to their dogs during the rest of the hour.) The results showed that owners with lower oxytocin levels stroked their dogs more, and dogs with lower oxytocin levels were also stroked for longer. In other words, this study suggests that humans can gauge the levels of oxytocin and initiate affectionate touch to increase them for both person and dog. In this way they are subconsciously caring for the animal’s wellbeing as well as their own. Sweet!
Here’s a study with touching results. In 2003, Miklosi et al carried out an experiment that tested wolves and dogs to see whether they could understand human cues (pointing). Socialized wolves were able to find hidden food if a human touched it for a second; domestic dogs were able to find hidden food if a human pointed from further away. The interesting thing happened when the wolf or dog failed to find the food. The dogs immediately turned their gaze onto the human face for the next cue. The wolves continued trying to solve the problem for themselves. (When this was tried with cats, they too looked at the human – but only for a fleeting moment.) This suggests that dogs have evolved with a deep understanding of human communication, and expect to read facial cues as well as body language.
Surprisingly, science supports the idea that dogs can help improve concentration in children. In Austria, researchers tested the theory that dogs help to increase cortisol, decrease stress, and improve motivation. 36 children who were aged 9-10, all of whose reading skills were below average, had reading sessions with and without a dog present. While the results showed very little change in cortisol level or heart-rate, children reading with a dog were more motivated and their reading showed more improvement.